Honoring the Fallen: A Family’s Journey to Educate and Remember our Fallen Heroes

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Attending the City of Palm Coast’s Memorial Day Ceremony at Heroes Memorial Park has become a tradition for the Stanford family. For Tim and Carmen Stanford, a Gold Star Family, it is a day filled with pain and a reminder of the loss they have endured. But Memorial Day is not the only day of the year to honor and remember our fallen heroes – they should be remembered every day.

 

Tim Stanford’s only son, Sergeant Lukas Stanford, made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the Army. However, amidst the struggle, the Stanford’s have found solace in their mission to educate the nation about the true meaning of Memorial Day.

 

Luke was a remarkable young man, brimming with love and a zest for life. From early childhood, he displayed an unwavering determination and a profound sense of humor that drew people to him.

 

“He played little league baseball, and once during a game, a line drive ball hit him in the face, and he went down but got right back up,” said Tim. “He turned to us and said, ‘Does this mean I can’t play anymore?’ We took him to the hospital in an ambulance, and they treated him for a cracked cheekbone. The opposing team’s coach presented him with a plaque afterward because they were so impressed with how he handled the injury.”

 

As he grew older, Luke’s aspirations shifted towards joining the Army and following in his grandfather’s footsteps as a federal agent. Although some of his friends shared his interest, Luke alone took the leap, enlisting to serve his country in 2004. Luke’s dream was cut short when he tragically lost his life in 2008, succumbing to injuries sustained while serving.

 

For the Stanford family, Memorial Day is far from a joyous occasion. It serves as a painful reminder of the sacrifices made by Luke and countless others and the devastation endured by their families.

 

“For us, Memorial Day is a moment to reflect on my son and all those fallen soldiers and their families because the families are devastated,” said Tim. “I’ve been lucky enough to have my beautiful wife and daughter to help me through everything; many others do not.”

 

Tim and Carmen have met numerous Gold Star families throughout the years, witnessing firsthand the profound impact of losing a loved one in service. Motivated by their own experiences and the plight of other Gold Star families, the Stanford’s have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness about the true meaning of Memorial Day.

 

A Gold Star Family is the immediate family member(s) of a service member who has lost his or her life in the line of duty. The title dates back to World War I when military families displayed service flags featuring a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the Armed Forces. The star’s color would be changed to gold if the family lost a loved one in the war. In 1928, Grace Darling, a Gold Star Mother, founded American Gold Star Mothers along with a group of 25 other grieving mothers.

 

Carmen shares Tim’s sentiments and emphasizes the need for nationwide education on Memorial Day. “The best way is to start early, in the schools with the kids,” said Carmen. “For us, this year, it will be 16 years since Luke died. I clearly remember since we got that knock on the door and the evolution of grief to educating, to dealing with it yourself. The most surprising thing about it was the need to educate what Memorial Day is about.”

 

The Stanford’s believe that true remembrance goes beyond one day a year. They honor Luke’s memory daily through personal tributes at home and an active Facebook page dedicated to keeping his name alive. They understand the power of saying the names of the fallen and ensuring that their sacrifices are never forgotten.

 

As Luke’s younger sister Emma shares her thoughts, it becomes evident that his legacy lives on within their family. “I’m proud to be related to somebody who served in the Army,” said Emma. “I heard stories that he was fun and wanted to be an ATF agent like my grandpa. I want to do something in law enforcement, so I feel like we would have gotten along.”

 

Located at 2860 Palm Coast Parkway, Heroes Memorial Park in the City of Palm Coast serves as a poignant tribute to the courageous individuals, such as Sergeant Lukas Stanford, who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. It stands as a sacred space where visitors can pause and reflect on the valor of our military, law enforcement, and firefighter heroes. Within the park, engraved granite monuments display the names of our local fallen heroes, ensuring that their memory lives on indefinitely. Residents can visit this peaceful park daily from dawn to dusk.

 

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By Jeremy Jarvis

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